Friday, February 15, 2008

Benoît Lahaye, Bouzy

I learned a lot about the village of Bouzy this week, tasting parcels of vin clair in barrel with one of my favorite vignerons of the area, Benoît Lahaye. A passionate advocate of natural winegrowing, Lahaye took over the family estate in 1993 and has been making wine under his own label since 1996. He completely stopped using systemic herbicides in 1994, and in 1996, inspired by Patrick Meyer in Alsace, Lahaye began to work organically, in addition to using cover crops in the vineyards and experimenting with biodynamic treatments. The estate was fully converted to organic viticulture by 2003, and is certified organic as of 2007. Lahaye has noticed a pronounced difference in his wines after the transition to organic farming. “It’s not really a question of being better,” he says, “but my wines attain higher levels of ripeness now, while retaining the same level of acidity.”

Lahaye owns 4.6 hectares, three of which are in Bouzy, and the rest just over the respective borders of Ambonnay and Tauxières. As is typical for Bouzy, most of his parcels are planted with pinot noir — 88 percent, to be exact. As Lahaye vinifies each of his parcels separately, it’s possible to compare various sectors of Bouzy and observe how the terroir changes across the face of the slope. Just as we can acknowledge, for example, that Les Amoureuses and Bonnes-Mares have dramatically different profiles yet still describe an identifiable and coherent character of wines from Chambolle-Musigny, so it is with villages in Champagne. Overall, one could say that Bouzy’s sunny, south-facing slopes tend to produce an ample and full-bodied pinot noir with red-fruit notes of strawberry and raspberry. Yet the wines from Les Juliennes, on the border with Tauxières where the topsoil is shallow and the chalk closer to the surface, feel racy and tense, encasing their red fruit in a sleekly elongated structure; whereas wines from Les Cloches, on the mid-slope closer to Ambonnay where the chalk is covered by 1.5 to two meters of calcareous clay, are more round and voluptuous, with a rich body and bolder fragrance. As with most people, Lahaye’s finished champagnes are usually blended from different parcels to create a more complete wine, such as his deliciously exuberant Brut Nature, one of my favorite non-dosé champagnes. His rosé, however, is a pure saignée from Les Juliennes, and his fresh, fragrant Bouzy rouge is grown in three parcels on the mid-slope, or coeur du terroir, that are close to each other and share similar soils: Les Cloches, La Priorée and Les Cercets.

Apologies for the terrible photos — Lahaye has exceptionally beautiful and atmospheric cellars, but my poor camera struggled to do them justice, especially while I was juggling glass, pen and camera all at the same time.

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